Kindergartners clapped and first-graders sat, rapt, during International Literacy Day at Eagleview Elementary School in Columbia.
It’s not every day a school custodian dresses up as a pirate and reads “How I Became a Pirate,” or the physical education teacher jams himself into a rocker and reads “The Magic Bicycle.”
But exceptions are made for International Literacy Day, and the events Thursday at Eagleview included a storytelling assembly by Narbeth Emmanuel, a former vice chancellor from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, and steel pan drum-playing by SIUE music education major Lexi Edwards.
Martha Shelton coordinated the events at Eagleview, an annual event usually held later in the fall.
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“Let’s try it on the actual day,” she said the staff had decided, knowing that they have “outstanding” community support. The school had 21 parents, grandparents, administrators, school staff, police and even a retired teacher volunteer to read to the students for 30 minutes Thursday afternoon.
Debbie Bowles, the pirate, said the book she read actually chose her. Shelton had provided three books for her to choose from that would be appropriate for the first-grade audience. All were pirate-themed.
“Nobody knew I liked pirates!” she said, adding that she already had all the props and clothing used in her reading performance, including the treasure that so fascinated the students.
Retired reading specialist Debbie Conrod came back to the school to read “Dinner with Olivia,” about the pig and her friend Francine and their table manners, or lack thereof. Students sat quietly, at least until the funny parts about Olivia dropping her Brussels sprout onto the white carpet.
Conrod said one key to holding children’s interest in reading at that age is to find characters that they know.
“And we like to read them books that teach them something,” she said, “like people eat supper differently.”
All the teachers agreed on how often and how long a child should be read to and read: “As much as possible,” said Jeanie Culler.
“In school they read to themselves, to each other, to the group, and then to us — it goes on all day,” Culler said. “They love to read.”